At the time of the giving of the Torah, the Talmud teaches (Shabbat 88b-89a), the heavenly angels appeared before God and asked, regarding Moses: “What business has one born of woman among us?” God replied: he is here to receive the Torah. The angels were outraged. How can God’s greatest gift be given to mere flesh and blood; it should be given to the angels instead. Moses’s reply says volumes about the relationship between Torah study and mitzvah-observance, particularly relavent this time of year.
Sovereign of the Universe! The Torah which you give me, what is written in it? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.” Said he to [the angels]: Did you go down to Egypt; were you enslaved to Pharaoh: why then should the Torah be yours? . . . “You shall have no other gods” – do you dwell among peoples that engage in idol worship? . . . “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” – do you then perform work, that you need to rest?. . . “Honor your father and thy mother” – have you fathers and mothers? . . . You shall not murder”, “You shall not commit adultery”, “You shall not steal” – is there jealousy among you? Is the Evil Tempter among you? [The angels] conceded to the Holy One, blessed be He.
What were the angels really asking for? Didn’t they know that, not having physical bodies, God’s commandments and prohibitions would simply not apply to them? When I was in Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky’s shiur at Yeshiva University, he suggested the following answer.
The angels asked to partake in the wisdom of the Torah even though they could not perform its specific mitzvot. Wanting to cleave to God through His greatest treasure, perhaps they believed that mere knowledge of Torah would suffice. Moses replied that the Torah’s wisdom is inextricably tied to the specific acts that must be observed here on earth. It is available only to those who live by its Law.
Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Flame